I read about this new approach to treating allergies in the discussion boards at Peanut Allergy.com.
Let me see if I can get the basics correct as I'm not at all a scientist, although I'm fairly well-versed for a layman/Mommy/allergy sufferer in the field of allergies. (Please correct any glaring errors though.)
Mast cells are the cells that freak out and release tons of histamine when something identified as "foreign" enters the body. My mast cells shriek and run around like frightened passersby in a Godzilla movie when they detect things like dust mite proteins, penicillin, sulfa drugs, and grass pollen in my body. Ryan's mast cells go berserk when they detect just the eensiest amount of peanut protein.
The currently available therapies seem to be of the anti-histamine variety, which stop the histamine from having an adverse effect on the body (sneezing, runny nose, hives, anaphylactic shock, what have you). I think what an anti-histamine does is reduce the body's sensitivity to histamine. I think.
These scientists are focusing instead on the mast cells that produce the histamine. They found a "receptor protein" which to my non-biologist mind means "gateway" or "door" to a cell (am I close?), in this case, mast cells. This protein is found all over the place in the body, too, so they've been able to create a therapy that identifies this protein only when found on mast cells, and when it does, the protein on the mast cells gets set to the "off" or "shut" position and no histamine is released at all. Godzilla goes back into the ocean and all the little people on the streets head off to the coffee shop or a movie instead.
Okay, so even if I'm off a bit on my medical facts, the basic point of the article is that these scientists are looking at the problem in a new way and have met with success. This is great news for Ryan obviously, whose life is at risk at every birthday party and grocery store trip, but also for the likes of me, an allergy sufferer who is merely enormously debilitated on a day-to-day basis by her allergies.